Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government has claimed victory in parliamentary elections despite exit polls indicating a close result with the opposition.
It is seen as the biggest test of the current leaders popularity since he came to power in 2003 after the Rose Revolution. In 2008 he led the country into a disastrous five day conflict with Russia and has attempted to portray the vote as a choice between his progressive Western-leaning United National Movement, and a future dominated by Russia.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, the main opposition candidate in the elections, turned up at his local polling station and refused to vote. The billionaire leader of the six-party Georgian Dream movement claimed that the constitution was being ‘distorted’ and would not cast his ballot in what he deemed “something close to a democratic election.”
Tension was high after the recent revelation of a prison scandal that shocked the Caucasus country and fuelled accusations of government repression. Protests took place across the country after videos were released of sexual and physical abuse taking place in a Tbilisi prison.
Mr. Saakashvili’s second term as president ends in 2013 and he is barred from standing again under the constitution.